31 Days to Scare ~ The Cell

The Facts:

Synopsis: An F.B.I. Agent persuades a social worker adept with a new experimental technology to enter the mind of a comatose serial killer in order to learn where he has hidden his latest kidnap victim.

Stars: Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D’Onofrio, Colton James, Dylan Baker, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Jake Weber, Tara Subkoff

Director: Tarsem Singh

Rated: R

Running Length: 109 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Aside from a few bright spots here and there, you’d be forgiven if you didn’t remember many of the movies that came out during the summer of 2000.  Between May and August, the only notable releases that may be part of your library were Mission: Impossible 2, Gladiator, The Patriot, The Perfect Storm, Scary Movie, What Lies Beneath, Hollow Man, and the first X-Men.  At the tail end of it all came The Cell and it sure wasn’t like the rest of them.  Featuring two stars on the rise and with a focus more on breathtaking (and sometimes horrifying) visuals than, oh, consistent logic, it’s a beautiful film to look at but not one you should think too hard about.

Serial killer Stargher  (Vincent D’Onofrio, Sinister) has been abducting young women and using them to fulfill his fantasies involving pain and purification.  Keeping them locked in a glass cell until he is ready to dispose of them by drowning them slowly and videotaping it, the women all have a limited amount of time before they run of breathing space.  Stargher has been getting sloppy, though, and that’s how Agent Novak (Vaughn, The Internship) tracks him down only to find Stargher has lapsed into a coma brought on by a schizophrenic illness.  Desperate to find the latest victim Stargher has kidnapped, Novak is referred to a clinic where Catherine Deane (Lopez, Second Act) has been pioneering a new method of reaching patients suffering from the same condition.

Through some scientific sleight of hand, Catherine is able to enter the mind of her patient and can help unlock them from their perpetual dream state.  Once she’s inside, though, she’s susceptible to any kind of deceit or harm the patient might inflict which is why up until now the experiments have always been with children.  Novak needs Catherine to go into Stargher’s mind to see if she can find where he’s hidden his most recent prey (Tara Subkoff) before it’s too late.  As evil and torturous as Stargher is on the outside, what goes on in his brain is even worse.  The deeper Catherine goes into Stargher’s mind, the more challenging it is to separate reality from fantasy and soon she’s stuck in a hellscape with no end in sight.

While recently re-watching The Cell for the first time in well over a decade, my mind began to play tricks on me.  For some reason I got it into my head this surreal thriller was an early entry in the resumes of stars Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn when actually both actors had already made quite a splash on the big screen.  After a strong debut in Selena, Lopez was just coming off the rousing success of 1998’s brilliant Out of Sight, which firmly established the former Fly Girl as an actor that could hold her own against A-listers like George Clooney.  Vaughn had managed to survive a dino attack in The Lost World: Jurassic Park and come out unscathed from Gus Van Sant’s remake of Psycho.  So…both were sitting pretty.

It must have been a curious experience for fans of the stars to see them in this strange mix of fantasy and horror, taking themselves very seriously in situations that come off more than a wee bit goofy nineteen years later.  Director Tarsem Singh (Mirror Mirror) makes his feature film directing debut and the movie is a dream to look at…literally.  Even viewed all these years later when we have the benefit of advanced CGI and drone cameras that could capture the same shots, what he’s done with cinematographer Paul Laufer (who has never made another movie, strangely) is nothing sort of brilliant.  Ditto to Eiko Ishioka’s (Bram Stoker’s Dracula) and April Napier’s (Lady Bird) stunning costumes, which somehow managed to not get nominated for an Oscar…though the impressive make-up work did get a nod.

Where the movie starts to lean into silly territory is when Mark Protosevich’s script has Lopez and Vaughn giving the material more weight than it probably deserves.  This is, after all, a serial killer thriller with a sci-fi edge so to have theoretical discussions of good and evil acts only as padding instead of character development.  There are large chunks of Lopez/Vaughn scenes that could be excised without us losing anything from either – both are strong enough actors to convey exactly what we need with less.  Vaughn, in particular, is weighed down by one histrionic monologue that’s almost laughable in its attempt to be the next dramatic piece favorited by future Julliard applicants.

Even sitting at almost two decades old, The Cell holds up rather well and it was pleasing to see this so soon after watching Lopez turn in some of her best work in years in Hustlers.  Though she’s made some frothy fun ones over the years, it’s when she takes a shot at being serious and different when she shows just how good of a performer she really is.  It may not goose you in the fear department as it could have when it first premiered but it gets an A for effort — the images Singh whips up have a certain grotesque beauty to them.

Down From the Shelf ~ The Lost World: Jurassic Park

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A research team is sent to the Jurassic Park Site B island to study the dinosaurs there while another team approaches with their own agenda.

Stars: Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Arliss Howard, Vince Vaughn, Pete Postlethwaite, Vanessa Lee Chester, Peter Stormare, Richard Schiff

Director: Steven Spielberg

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 129 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: I remember December 13, 1996 very well. I was in a theater at the Mall of America for the first showing of Tim Burton’s wack-a-doo sci-fi flick Mars Attacks! and was far more excited for the coming attractions that the feature presentation. You see, our local newspaper had let us know that the Mall of America would be one of a few theaters outfitted with a special “lighting surprise” that went along with the teaser trailer for director Steven Spielberg’s much-anticipated follow-up to his 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park.

OK…before we move on, take a moment and look at the teaser trailer I included above. I’ll wait.

Did you watch it?

OK…now for some explanation.

The lights go down and the trailer begins – a fairly simple teaser over all but every time there was a lightening flash when the words Something Has Survived appeared on screen the specially installed high powered strobe lights in the theater would flash a blinding light so it felt like you were right in the middle of the action. True, the effect was fairly unique but it also showed how downright dingy the walls and ceiling of the theater were.

I tell you this story because the gimmicky nature of the preview of The Lost World: Jurassic Park wound up being the most interesting thing about the movie. Fanboys and fangirls around the world were pretty bummed out when the sequel to one of the biggest films of all times landed like a soggy thud on Memorial Day weekend. Oh the film made bank at the box office, no question, but it lacked the energy and awe of its predecessor and played like a quick cash grab.

It’s been several years since the disaster at the original Jurassic Park and the mystery around the island still remains. When a British family picnicking on an island not too far away has a close encounter with some tiny dinos and a second site of dino creationism is revealed, mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, The Grand Budapest Hotel) is called in by billionaire and Jurassic Park creator John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) to…well…it’s never really clear why he eventually agrees to be dropped in the middle of the dinosaur action again. It’s not for any sense of loyalty, that’s for sure…in the years after the park failure Hammond’s company tarnished Malcolm’s professional reputation.

Accompanied by a team that includes Richard Schiff (Entourage) and Vince Vaughn (The Internship), Malcolm is reunited with his girlfriend Sarah (Julianne Moore, Still Alice, slumming it for a chance to work on a big budget project with a high powered director), a research conservationist sent ahead as bait for Malcolm to follow. There’s also a pitiful subplot introducing Malcolm’s child (Vanessa Lee Chester) who stows away to spend more time with daddy.

There are just so many things going on in the film that it’s hard to pick up any thread to follow. There are too many people as well, part of the beauty of the original film was that it was easy to track the half dozen characters that fought for survival…there’s hundreds of people in the sequel and the end result is that you don’t really care who gets chomped and who lives to tell the story.

While there are a few perilous edge of your seat sequences there are far too many more stretches where nothing of import happens. A reliance on extra screen time for the dinosaurs seems like a ploy to pad the story and don’t even get me started at the hare-brained finale through the streets of San Diego. The entire film reminded me of King Kong, a film that Spielberg would toy with remaking almost a decade later.

Everyone here looks exhausted (when you can see them at all, too much of the film takes place at night or deep in the jungle ) and Spielberg himself seems to have given up halfway through. Rushed into production and only loosely based on Michael Crichton’s sequel to his mega-selling novel (Spielberg was the one that goaded him into writing it), the film feels so very heavy and devoid of the magic that made Jurassic Park a landmark achievement.

In Praise of Teasers ~ Psycho (1998)

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I have a serious problem with movie trailers lately. It seems like nearly every preview that’s released is about 2:30 minutes long and gives away almost every aspect of the movie, acting more like a Cliff Notes version of the movie being advertised rather than something to entice an audience into coming back and seeing the full product.

In this day and age where all aspects of a movie are fairly well known before an inch of footage is seen the subtlety of a well crafted “teaser” trailer is totally gone…and I miss it…I miss it a lot. So I decided to go back to some of the teaser trailers I fondly remember and, in a way, reintroduce them. Whether the actual movie was good or bad is neither here nor there…but pay attention to how each of these teasers work in their own special way to grab the attention of movie-goers.

Psycho (1998)

Riding high off of a string of movies that were critical and box office successes, the (cinematic) world was director Gus Van Sant’s oyster.  So on one hand it was easy to imagine why Universal Studios would allow Van Sant to take on what was essentially a shot for shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary 1960 thriller.  On the other hand, why would any director even want to go near the property to begin with?  I remember being excited to see what Van Sant would do with the material and his starry ensemble cast…and also feeling a bit shell shocked leaving the theater after viewing the ultimately unwise finished film.  Hitchcock’s film still has an impact even 15 years after this bungled remake so in the end this head-scratcher exists merely as curiosity.

Missed my previous teaser reviews? Check out my look at Alien, Misery, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Showgirls, Jurassic Park, Jaws 3D/Jaws: The Revenge, Total Recall, Halloween II: Season of the Witch, In the Line of Fire, The Game

The Silver Bullet ~ Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

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Synopsis: With the 70s behind him, San Diego’s top rated newsman, Ron Burgundy, returns to take New York’s first 24-hour news channel by storm.

Release Date:  December 20, 2013

Thoughts: Well, the second trailer for the sequel to 2004’s Anchorman has arrived and, like the first preview, I’m left cold.  Though I know the first film has achieved a high position on the list of cult favorites over the years, I’ve never been a big fan of what’s essentially an overlong comedy routine from Will Ferrell and his gang.  Now I think all of these men are funny individually but I’ve yet to be swayed that as a group they’re the laugh riot they think they are.  I barely cracked a smile during this…and that doesn’t bode well for my enjoyment of the finished product.  I realize I’m in the minority here and Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is poised to be a huge holiday box-office hit, but man-child humor has to work extra hard to get a laugh out of me and so far I’m unimpressed.

The Silver Bullet ~ Delivery Man

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Synopsis: An affable underachiever finds out he’s fathered 533 children through anonymous donations to a fertility clinic 20 years ago. Now he must decide whether or not to come forward when 142 of them file a lawsuit to reveal his identity.

Release Date:  November 22, 2013

Thoughts: If all goes as planned Vince Vaughn will have a nice little summer hit with the enjoyable The Internship, putting him in a good spot for audiences to welcome another comedy later in 2013 that’s a remake the well-received a 2011 Canadian film Starbuck.  Both movies were directed by the same guy (Ken Scott) that could pose a potential problem because history has shown that sometimes it’s easier to provide a shot-for-shot remake rather than truly remake the film from the bottom up.  From what I know of Starbuck, Vaughn may be the best man in Hollywood for the job and based on an appealing turn in The Internship I’m putting this one a little higher on my list.

Movie Review ~ The Internship

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internship

The Facts:

Synopsis: Two salesmen whose careers have been torpedoed by the digital age find their way into a coveted internship at Google, where they must compete with a group of young, tech-savvy geniuses for a shot at employment.

Stars: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Max Minghella, Rose Byrne, John Goodman, Dylan O’Brien, JoAnna Garcia, Eric Andre, Josh Brener, Tiya Sircar, Tobit Raphael, Will Ferrell

Director: Shawn Levy

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 119 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Though summer is traditionally the time of big budget franchise pictures that boast state of the art special effects and gigantic action sequences, it’s nice to remember that there are also high profile studio pictures that provide nice counter programming to more bombastic films.  Now along comes The Internship, a comedy that takes a big gamble that pays off for the most part and proves that you don’t need superheroes and alien effects to entertain.

It’s hard to imagine everything that was on the line with the pitch that screenwriter Vince Vaughn and Jared Stern made to the studio in hopes of getting this movie made.  A comedy about two washed up salesmen that worm their way into a summer internship at Google, the entire film really depended on the participation of the massive internet company.  Without them, the movie simply couldn’t have been made.

Thankfully, after reading the script the company agreed to lend their name and blessing to the genial comedy and even if it could be argued that the movie is just one big ad for Google there’ s no denying that there’s a fun movie at the center of all the product placement.  Giving viewers an inside look at the Google campus (though little to none of it was actually filmed there), we see the atmosphere that the company has created with free food, nap pods (I’d like to order one of those, please), slides that take you from one floor to another, and a collegiate atmosphere that stimulates creativity while pushing the boundaries of imagination.

I get the impression that this was originally targeted as an R-Rated feature but it’s relatively tame considering that the film stars the men from 2005’s raunchy Wedding Crashers.  More than a few times I could tell some more explicit words and images were removed to get the film to more audience friendly PG-13 but it really doesn’t matter because the comedy comes from a more genuine place and its largely thanks to its stars.

While Vaughn struck gold early with Swingers he only manages a good film every fourth movie released.  He’s in his comfort zone here as a fast-talking dyed in the wool salesman that suddenly is up against people half his age that have double the tech knowledge he so sorely lacks.  Wilson (who seems to look more like a young old man with each film) is a nicely centered counter to Vaughn’s more hyperactive character.  The two work well together and even if a few of their likely ad-libbed scenes go on a little too long you can tell that there’s a real respect there.

As part of their internship, Vaughn and Wilson must team up with a group of misfits to complete challenges that will get them one step closer to a full time job at the end of the summer.  The plot actually reminded me of the recent Monsters University where two goofballs are forced to work with a team of outcasts to gain admission to a highly competitive college program.  Instead of monster related shenanigans, The Internship puts Vaughn, Wilson, and their outliers up against a set of Google related challenges and asks them to square off opposite a perfectly smarmy Max Minghella.

Normally I bristle at a romance that feels shoe-horned in but the playful banter exchanged between Wilson and Rose Byrne (The Place Beyond the Pines) is genuinely surprising and makes good use of the refreshing appeal of both actors.  Byrne’s role could easily have been a one-note ice queen that gets melted by Wilson’s aw-shucks charm but she gives some extra gravitas to her take on her character that somehow makes a familiar romantic sparring situation feel new.

Director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) keeps things moving at a nice pace and for a comedy that almost tips the scales at two hours the result is a breezy laugher that’s as harmless as a low-level virus that has infected your G-Mail account.  Even a cameo by the sometimes unrestrained Will Ferrell lands squarely on the funny bone and doesn’t overstay its welcome.  While The Internship is most likely a film with little re-watch value, there’s a lot of fun to be had if you’re up for something that doesn’t involve star treks with iron men of steel on the pacific rim.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Internship

internship

Synopsis: Two salesmen whose careers have been torpedoed by the digital age find their way into a coveted internship at Google, where they must compete with a group of young, tech-savvy geniuses for a shot at employment.

Release Date: June 7, 2013

Thoughts: Watching the trailer for The Internship reminds me of the kind of movies we saw in the mid to late nineties – big studio comedies with a box office stars that were bright, fun, and harmless.  Though I’m not the biggest fan of either Vaughn or Wilson (and their current status as A-list box office stars is debatable) I have to say this looks like a welcome return to form for both comic actors.  While it does come off like a feature length ad for Google, I’d still bet good money that there are plenty of laughs to be had in this summer internship.